Tresette

Tresette is an Italian trick-taking game for four players in partnerships. Much like in Pinochle, players also score points for melds that they find in their hands. Melds in Tresette are much more simple, however, because they can only include aces, 2s, and 3s. These cards, along with the face cards, are the only cards that count when collected in tricks.

Object of Tresette

The object of Tresette is to be the first partnership to score 31 or more points. Points are scored by taking certain cards in tricks and by forming melds consisting of aces, 2s, and 3s.

Setup

Tresette uses the 40-card Italian deck. (This is the same deck used to play Seven and a Half, Scopa and Briscola, among others.) To create the requisite deck, start with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove the 10s, 9s, and 8s. Now you’ll have a deck that has ten cards in each suit (ace through 7, and the three face cards). You’ll also want something to keep score with—pencil and paper works great.

Tresette is traditionally played in a counter-clockwise fashion (to the right). For the sake of simplicity, we’ve reversed the directions so that it proceeds to the left, like most normal card games. If your players want some added authenticity to their Tresette game, you can reverse it back. It really makes no difference.

Determine partnerships by any convenient method, such as by drawing cards or just mutual agreement. Players should sit next to each other, so that as the turn proceeds around the table, it alternates between partnerships.

Shuffle and deal the entire deck out, ten cards to each player.

Card ranking

Tresette uses an extremely odd card ranking. Aces are high, but 3s and 2s are ranked even higher than the aces. If that’s not enough, the jacks outrank the queens! What’s left is in the usual order. That gives a full card ranking of (high) 3, 2, A, K, J, Q, 7, 6, 5, 4 (low).

Game play

Melding

There are two types of melds in Tresette, and they both involve only the aces, 2s, and 3s. The first is three or four of a kind. (Again, just aces, 2s, and 3s count—three of a kind in any other suit gets you nothing!) The second, called a nap, consists of 3-2-A of the same suit.

If a player holds a meld at the beginning of the hand, they declare it by stating “Good play”. They do not reveal the meld, and multiple players may declare melds. Upon winning their first trick, a player that declared a meld announces the type of the meld or melds they hold, such as “four 2s”, or “three aces and a nap”.

Play of the hand

The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Play is the same as it is in most every trick-taking game, but we’ll give you the rundown anyway. Each player in turn plays a card. They must follow suit if able, and if not, they can play whatever they want. After all four have played, whoever played the highest card of the suit led wins the trick and leads to the next one. Each partnership maintains a won-tricks pile, shared between the two partners, in which they store the cards from tricks that they’ve won.

Unlike in most other card games, in Tresette, you can share information about your holdings and what you want your partner to do. However, anything you say is public knowledge; your opponents are in on it too! When you lead to a trick, you can ask your partner to “play their best” card of that suit. If you’re playing to a trick led by someone else, you can announce how many cards you hold of the suit led. You can also announce, at any time, if you hold two, one, or zero cards in a suit (but not which suit it is).

Scoring

Play continues until all ten tricks have been played. The hand is then scored. Each partnership first scores one point for each card in their melds. That is, for each four-of-a-kind melded, they score four points, and they score three for every other meld. Each team then counts the number of 2s, 3s, and face cards that they captured in tricks. For every three of these cards captured, they score one point. Any remainder is disregarded. For each ace that the partnership collected, they score one point. Finally, the partnership that took the last trick also scores one point.

Game play continues until one partnership scores 31 or more points. That partnership is the winner.

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Calabrasella

Calabrasella is a trick-taking game for three players. Playing much like a simplified form of Solo, Calabrasella features a lone player against their two opponents, trying to capture the most point-scoring cards in tricks. Because the solo player is at an inherent disadvantage to their two opponents, the game counteracts this by granting certain liberties to the soloist, namely the ability to take a high-ranking card from one of their opponents, and the opportunity to exchange up to four cards with those in the widow.

The name Calabrasella seems to indicate an origin in Calabria, the province on the peninsula that makes up the “toe” of Italy. In any case, by 1870 it had spread throughout Italy, to the extent that it was considered the national game.

Object of Calabrasella

The object of Calabrasella is to capture as many scoring cards in tricks as possible. The scoring cards are the aces, 2s, 3s, and face cards.

Setup

Calabrasella is played with a 40-card Italian deck. To create such a deck from a 52-card English deck, like a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, just remove all the 10s, 9s, and 8s. You’ll be left with aces through 7s, plus the face cards, in each of the four suits. You’ll also need something to keep score with. The game is traditionally scored with hard scoring, so you’ll want some form of counters handy, like poker chips. If desired, each chip can represent an agreed-upon amount of real-world money.

Distribute the chips equally (or have players buy them). Shuffle and deal twelve cards to each player. The four remaining cards are placed face down in the center of the table, forming the widow.

Card ranking

For the most part, the cards rank in their usual order in Calabrasella, with aces high. However, both the 2 and the 3 are elevated from their usual positions to become the highest-ranking cards, above the ace. The full card ranking is thus (high) 3, 2, A, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4 (low).

Game play

Bidding and exchanging cards

Each hand begins with an extremely straightforward bidding round. The player to the left of the dealer has the option to pass or play. If they pass, the next player to the left (that to the dealer’s right) has the option, and then finally the dealer. Should all three players pass, the cards are collected, shuffled, and the next player to the left deals a new hand. When a player elects to play, the bidding ceases immediately, with that player becoming the declarer. The other two players become the defenders.

The declarer names the suit of any 3 that they do not hold (or, if they hold all four 3s, the suit of a 2 they do not hold). The player holding that card must pass it to the declarer, who exchanges it for any unwanted card in their hand. (This unwanted card is kept concealed from the third, uninvolved player.) If no player holds the card the declarer named (because it is in the widow), then they simply lose out.

The declarer then discards at least one but as many as four cards from their hand. They then turn the widow face up on the table. The declarer then selects the same number of cards as they discarded from the widow, taking them into their hand. The unused widow cards and the discards are then set aside, taking no further part in game play.

Play of the hand

The player to the declarer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player must follow suit if able; otherwise, they may play any card. When all three players have contributed to the trick, the person who played the highest card of the suit led wins the trick. That player then leads to the next tricks. Cards won in tricks are stored in a face-down won-tricks pile in front of them; the defenders share one common pile.

Scoring

After all twelve tricks are played, the hand scores are tallied up, with the defenders’ scores being added together and the declarer’s scored separately. The player taking the last trick scores a three-point bonus. Each ace is worth three points, and each 3, 2, and face card is worth one point.

If the declarer scored higher than the defenders did, each defender pays the declarer the difference between the scores. If the declarer scored lower than the defenders, the declarer must pay each defender the difference. For example, if the declarer scored 19 points and the declarers 16, each defender would pay the declarer three chips. On the other hand, if the declarer scored only 11 points and the defenders 24 points, the declarer would pay 26 chips in all: 13 to each defender.

In the event that one side scores 35–0, the payouts are doubled—each payment made is 70 chips.

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Burraco

Burraco is a Rummy game much like Canasta. It is best played by four players in partnerships. Burraco adds several interesting features to Canasta, such as an extra hand each team must play before going out and the ability to meld runs rather than just sets of the same rank.

The Canasta branch of the Rummy family originates in South America. Burraco is most likely an evolution of one of several similarly-named games played there. At some point, it migrated across the Atlantic to Italy, where it really hit its stride. Burraco is incredibly popular there, played in tournaments with an official governing body!

Object of Burraco

The object of Burraco is to score 2,000 points before your opponent by forming melds of three or more cards of the same rank, and burracos, which are melds of seven or more cards of the same rank.

Setup

To play, you’ll need to shuffle together two decks (preferably of the same back design and color) of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, including the jokers. This will give you a 108-card deck. You’ll also need something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper. If you’re really confident in your math skills, go ahead and use a pen. You might impress someone.

Determine partnerships by whatever method works for your group. Dealing out four cards and the two highs versus the two lows is a good way of doing it if you want a random method. Of course, if you can just agree on partnerships, so much the better. You could go further at this point and come up with team uniforms, mascots, and chants too, but that would be sort of silly. In any case, each player should sit opposite of their partner, so that as the turn goes around the table it alternates between partnerships.

Shuffle. The player to the dealer’s right cuts the deck. The dealer takes the bottom part of the deck and deals eleven cards to each player. Meanwhile, the player who cut retains the top part of the deck and, dealing from the bottom of the stack, makes two piles of eleven cards each. These two piles are called the pozzetti. Stack the pozzetti, putting them at right angles to one another to keep them separate. Place the bottom part of the deck atop the top part, completing the cut and forming the stock. Turn the top card of the stock face up, forming the discard pile.

Game play

The player to the dealer’s left goes first. They may draw either the top card of the stock or take the entire discard pile into their hand. Once that is done, they may lay down any melds they have. Then, they end their turn by discarding.

It should be noted that when you draw from the discard, you take the entire pile, not just the top card. Also, unlike in Canasta, there is no requirement that you have to be able to immediately use the top card of the discard—you can take the discard pile whenever you want! There is one restriction: if there is only one card in the discard pile and you take it, you cannot discard this card on the same turn. This is to prevent a player from presenting the same card their opponent on their right discarded to their opponent on their left. (Note that if you have the other card of the same rank and suit as the card you just drew, discarding the other card is totally fine!)

Melding

There are two types of meld in Burraco. The first is the set, which is three or more cards of the same rank. The second is the run or sequence, which is three or more consecutive cards of the same suit (cards rank in their usual order). As players form melds, they may lay them down face up on the table. Each player shares melds with their partner, and can add on to melds laid down by either player on any previous turn. A player may meld as many cards as they want on any single turn.

Aces may be played either high or low in sequences, but a meld cannot have more than one ace in it (i.e. you cannot have an ace at each end of the sequence). You can have more than one sequence of a given suit, but you cannot merge two melds that happen to grow to the same endpoints into one big meld. You also cannot divide one run into smaller melds.

Each partnership can only have one set for each rank. You cannot have a set of jokers or 2s.

Wild cards

Jokers and 2s are considered wild cards. Each meld can only contain one wild card (one joker or one 2, not one of each). In a meld, a wild card can take the place of any natural card.

In runs, a 2 can also be used as its natural value (e.g. in a run of ). 2s are not counted as wild cards when they are used in such a way. For example, 2-3-4♥-★ contains just one wild card—the joker. If there is no other wild card in a meld, a 2 used as its natural value can be pressed into service as a wild card. With a meld of 2-3-4♥, a player could add the 6♥ by changing the 2 into a wild (i.e. form 3-4-2-6♥, with the 2 standing in for the 5♥).

A wild card must always be placed at the low end of a run if it is not being used for one of the inside cards. For example, 7♠-★-9♠ is a valid meld, but 7-8♠-★ is not (it should be corrected to ★-7-8♠). If a player wishes to later extend the sequence upward using the joker, move the joker to the high end position. For example, if a player holds the 10♠ with a meld on the table of ★-7-8♠, they can move the joker to the end to make 7-8♠-★-10♠. This rule is to prevent a player from conveying to their partner which direction they want the run extended in.

If a player obtains a natural card that is already represented in one of their runs as a wild card, the player can place that card into the meld. For example, with a meld of 7-8♠-★-10♠, a player could replace the joker if they pick up a 9♠. The resulting meld would be ★-7-8-9-10♠. The melded wild card then moves to its usual position at the low end of the sequence. Note that you cannot replace one wild card with another wild card (e.g. to force a wild 2 into becoming a natural card).

Burrachi

Any meld of seven or more cards is called a burraco. If a burraco has no wild cards, it is called a clean burraco. Otherwise, it is a dirty burraco. A clean burraco is worth more points at the end of the hand than a dirty one.

Traditionally, a burraco is indicated by turning the end card at right angles to the rest of the cards. Clean burrachi are denoted by turning a second card in addition to the first.

Taking a pozzetto

When a player runs completely out of cards, they are able to take one of the pozzetti from the center of the table. If they take the pozzetto in the middle of a turn (i.e. before they discard), they simply pick it up and continue on with their turn. When a player discards their last card instead, they take the pozzetto but keep it face down in front of them until their next turn. This is to keep them from passing any information about their holdings to their partner.

After one player has taken a pozzetto, the other one is reserved for their opponents. The first player of the opposing partnership to run out of cards takes that pozzetto. Once a partnership has taken care of their pozzetti, when either player runs out of cards, they must be able to close instead.

Ending the hand

A player can close, ending the hand, as long as the following conditions are met:

  • That partnership has already picked up their pozzetto. (It is not necessary for the player who took the pozzetto to be the one that goes out.)
  • That side has at least one burraco.
  • They end their final turn with a discard. That is, they cannot meld all of their cards without discarding.
  • The final discard cannot be a wild card.

The hand also ends automatically if the stock is drawn down to two cards. After the player who drew the third-from-last card completes their turn, game play stops.

One other way the hand can end is with a stalemate. This is when the discard pile only has one card in it, and each of the players takes a turn where they simply draw the preceding player’s discard. After four turns (a complete orbit) of this, the hand ends.

Scoring

After the hand ends for any reason, each partnership totals the values of the cards in their melds, then subtracts the values of the cards left in their hands. Card values are as follows:

  • Jokers: 30 points each.
  • 2s: 20 points each.
  • Aces: 15 points each.
  • Ks–8s: 10 points each.
  • 7s–3s: 5 points each.

Additionally, each partnership scores the following bonuses, if applicable:

  • Clean burrachi: 200 points each.
  • Dirty burrachi: 100 points each.
  • Closing: 100 points. If neither team actually closed (due to stock depletion or stalemate), neither gets this bonus.

If a partnership failed to pick up their pozzetto, they take a –100 point penalty. The only exception is if a player got their pozzetto but never got to look at it; in this case the pozzetto is treated like the player’s hand and scored appropriately.

Game play continues until one partnership exceeds a score of 2,000 points. Whichever team has the higher score at that point is the winner.

See also

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Tute

Tute is a trick-taking game most often played with four players in partnerships. Originating in Italy as Tutti (meaning all), it spread to Spain, where it became one of the country’s most popular games. In Tute, only aces, 3s, and face cards matter—none of the lower cards carry any sort of point value!

Object of Tute

The object of Tute is to score the highest number of points in cards taken in tricks. Players may also score points by holding K-Q combinations and by taking the last trick.

Setup

Tute is played with the Spanish 40-card deck. To form such a deck from a standard 52-card deck like Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, simply remove the 8s, 9s, and 10s. You’ll be left with a 40-card deck with aces, face cards, and 7s through 2s in each of the four suits. (In the Spanish deck, the face cards are King, Knight and Knave; these are functionally equivalent to the English deck’s king, queen, and jack.) It may also be helpful for having something to compute scores—a calculator or pencil-and-paper will do.

Determine partnerships by whatever method is preferred—either some way of determining it randomly, or through plain mutual agreement. Players should sit across from their partner, so that as the turn of play proceeds around the table, players alternate in taking turns.

Shuffle and deal ten cards to each player, which distributes the entire deck. Reveal the last card dealt (which belongs to the dealer). The suit of this card becomes the trump suit for the hand. (The dealer adds this card to their hand as usual after everyone is aware of the trump suit.)

Card ranking

In Tute, the cards rank in their usual order, with aces high, with one exception. The 3 is elevated to rank just below the ace. That means that the full rank of cards is (high) A, 3, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4, 2 (low).

All of the face cards, aces, and 3s also carry a point value. Aces are worth eleven points, 3s are worth ten points, kings four, queens three, and jacks two. The number cards other than 3s are worth nothing in terms of points.

Game play

Tute is played counter-clockwise, so the player to the dealer’s right leads to the first trick. Continuing around to the right, each player in turn plays a card to the trick. Players must always follow suit, if possible. Additionally, they must head the trick if they can. That means that if the player can follow suit, they must; if they can’t follow suit and they can trump, they must do so (and overtrump if possible). Only if a player has no cards of the suit led or the trump suit can they play a card from one of the other two suits.

After all four players have contributed a card, the player who played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led if no trump was played, wins the trick. That player collects all four cards and places them into a won-tricks pile in front of them called a baza. (Each player shares a baza with their partner.) The individual player that won the first trick then leads to the second one.

Declarations

After a player wins a trick, but before leading to the next one, they may make a declaration for any marriages they hold. The two possible declarations are las cuarenta (the 40) for holding the king and queen of trumps, and las veinte (the 20) for holding the king and queen of any other suit. When making a declaration, the player must reveal the two cards. If a player has multiple such combinations, they may only declare them one at a time (they must declare any additional marriages after winning a later trick).

If a player holds las cuarenta, it must be the first declaration made; once las veinte has been declared, las cuarenta may no longer be declared. Of course, upon declaring las veinte, if the player holds any additional veintes they can still be declared on later tricks.

Holding all four kings is a special combination called a tute. If a player holds a tute, they may declare it as usual after winning a trick. Making such a declaration instantly wins the hand for the player holding the kings.

Scoring

After all ten tricks have been played, each team looks through their baza and totals up the point value of the cards they have collected in tricks. To this they add:

  • 40 points for las cuarenta
  • 20 points for each veinte
  • 10 points for taking the last trick

Whichever partnership has the higher total score wins the hand.

If a longer game is desired, play a pre-determined number of hands. Whichever team wins the majority of the hands wins the overall game.

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Rumino

Rumino is a rummy-type game of Italian origin for two to six players. Although it is played with a double deck, and uses reverse scoring (lowest score wins), at its core it plays much like Gin Rummy. The game also includes the rumino—a special type of seven-card meld that allows a player to win the game instantly.

Object of Rumino

The object of Rumino is to be the last player remaining with a score of under 100 points. Points are scored when a player has unmelded cards remaining at the end of the hand.

Setup

Rumino is played with a 108-card deck of playing cards, formed by shuffling together two decks of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, complete with four jokers. You also need something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper.

Rumino is often played for money. If you choose to do so, all players should agree to the value of one stake. Collect this amount from each player and amass it into a pool to be won by the winner of the game.

Shuffle and deal seven cards to each player. Place the stub in the center of the table, forming the stock. Turn over the top card of the stock and place it face up next to it. This card, the upcard, is the first card in the discard pile.

Game play

The player to the dealer’s left goes first. They begin their turn by drawing a card, either the upcard or the top card of the stock. After this, they discard a card (which becomes the new upcard for the next player’s turn). The next player does the same thing on their turn.

Players are trying to form their hand into combinations of cards called melds. A meld is three or four of a kind, or three or four cards of the same suit in sequence. (Cards rank in their usual order, with aces low.) If a player holds a joker, it is wild, and can substitute for any other card in a meld. When a player forms a meld, they keep it in their hand, rather than laying it out on the table.

While a player is forming melds, they are also keeping track of their deadwood count. This is the point value of all of the cards in their hand which are not part of a meld. Aces count for one point, face cards and jokers count as ten points, and all other cards count as their face value.

Going out

When a player reaches a deadwood count of seven or less at the beginning of their turn, they may knock. Knocking must be done before a player draws to start their turn. When a player knocks, every player lays their hand face up on the table, breaking the melds out separately. Each player then has the total value of their deadwood added to their score.

If a player manages to reach a deadwood score of zero, they may go gin instead of knocking. In this case, the player going gin scores –10, while all other players score their deadwood count, as before.

Ruminos

There are two special conditions known as ruminos: seven cards of the same suit, in sequence (e.g. 7-8-9-10-J-Q-K♦) or seven of a kind. Either of these may contain jokers. When a player obtains a rumino, they reveal it, and the game ends immediately, with the player holding the rumino as the winner.

Should a player have six cards to a rumino, and a card that could be used as the needed seventh card is discarded by another player, the player holding the potential rumino may interrupt and draw it out of turn. They then reveal their newly-completed rumino and win the game, as usual.

Ending the game

If no ruminos are scored, game play continues for several hands, with players’ scores gradually increasing. When a player reaches a score of 100 or more, they drop out of the game.

If playing for money, a player may rebuy into the game by contributing more money to the pool. A player’s first rebuy is the same as the initial stake. If a player rebuys again, their second rebuy is double that amount. The third rebuy is again double the cost (four times the amount of the initial buy-in), and so on. Whenever a player rebuys, their score is reset to that of whichever opponent has the highest score under 100. A player no longer rebuy when there are only two players left in the game (i.e. whenever the third-place finisher is eliminated from the game).

Whichever player is the last remaining with a score under 100 wins the game. That player collects the entire prize pool.

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Ziginette

Ziginette is an Italian gambling and banking game for any number of players, although it might get a little bit hectic with more than about eight. Card expert John Scarne described Ziginette in the mid-twentieth century as “the biggest money card game in Italy”, and noted that it was also popular among Italian-Americans. Ziginette was likely the basis for the similar American gambling game Skin.

Unlike most banking games, Ziginette has no inherent house edge. When casinos spread the game, they would take a 10% cut of the banker’s wins, thus ensuring they profit by running the game. Without this cut, neither the banker nor the players have an advantage.

Object of Ziginette

The object of Ziginette is to win money when the dealer matches their card before you match yours.

Setup

Ziginette is played with the 40-card Italian deck. (This deck is also used to play Seven and a Half, Scopa and Briscola.) To form such a deck, take a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove the 10s, 9s, and 8s. What remains will be a deck that has ten cards in each suit (ace through 7, and the three face cards). You will also need something to bet with. Because of the all of the winning and losing that will be taking place, using chips is highly recommended. If Blackjack dealing equipment is available, such as a shoe and a discard rack, it might be useful, but is not required.

Determine the first dealer-banker by some random method, such as a high card draw. Before dealing the first hand, the banker must announce what the minimum and maximum bets will be. These limits must be an amount they’re comfortable with losing, because they will be responsible for paying out all winning bets.

Shuffle and deal two board cards face up to the center of the table. Then, deal a third card face up in front of the banker. If any of these three cards form a pair, it is called a playette. In this case, the cards are returned to the deck, which is shuffled before redealing.

Game play

The players may now place a bet on either of the board cards available to them. If they wish, they can bet on both cards, on just one, or neither.

Once the players have had an adequate time to make their bets, the banker deals a fourth card, face up. If it doesn’t match any of the cards previously dealt, it simply becomes another board card. Players may place wagers on it just like the others. However, if the new card matches one of the board cards, the banker collects all of the bets placed on the board card of that rank. When a card is matched in this way, it is removed from the board. The other two cards of that rank simply become dead and are discarded upon being dealt. This continues, with the banker dealing new cards and collecting losing bets.

When the banker deals a card matching their own, the hand ends. The banker must pay out every wager currently on the board at even money. The deal then passes to the player on the losing banker’s right.

In the event that all of the cards on the board are matched before the dealer’s, or that there are no bets left on the board and the players are unwilling to place new ones, the hand ends. In this situation, the banker has the option to deal another hand. If they do, they may adjust the betting limits prior to dealing. They may also elect to pass the bank to the next player, the same as if they had ended the hand by losing.

 

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Seven and a Half

Seven and a Half is a simple counting game that is said to be a predecessor of Blackjack. It’s easy to see the resemblance. In Blackjack, the goal is to reach a score of 21 without going over—in Seven and a Half, the object is the same, except instead of 21, the target score is, you guessed it, 7½! It can be played by up to around eight players.

Seven and a Half most likely originated in Italy, and was spread throughout the world by Italian immigrants. It is still popular there, especially around Christmas, when it is traditionally played. Seven and a Half is also played in Spain and Brazil.

Object of Seven and a Half

The object of Seven and a Half is to, through selectively drawing more cards, obtain a better score than the dealer without going over 7½.

Setup

Seven and a Half is played with the 40-card deck commonly found in Italy. (This deck is also used to play Scopa and Briscola.) To form such a deck from a standard 52-card deck of cards like Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, just remove all the 10s, 9s, and 8s. You’ll be left with a deck that has ten cards in each suit (ace through 7, and the three face cards). You will also need something to bet with. Because of the all of the winning and losing that will be taking place, using chips is highly recommended. If Blackjack dealing equipment is available, such as a shoe and a discard rack, it might be useful, but is not required.

The banker (who also serves as dealer) has a considerable advantage, as in most banking games. Therefore, the first dealer should be determined by some random method, such as a high card draw. The banker must announce, prior to dealing the first hand, what the minimum and maximum bets will be. They will be responsible for paying out all winning bets, so they must set the limits to an amount they’re comfortable with losing. (The banker may declare new betting limits prior to dealing each hand.)

Each player who wishes to participate in the hand places their bet in front of them. Shuffle and deal one card, face down, to each active player, including the dealer.

Game play

Each player looks at their face-down card (their hole card), keeping it secret from the other players, especially the banker. Aces are worth one point. Face cards, other than the K♦, are each worth half a point. All other cards are their face value. The K♦ is a wild card, and can represent any positive whole number. (That is, no negative numbers and no fractional values!)

The player to the dealer’s left has the first turn to play. If they wish, they may state that they wish to hit or draw. If so, the banker deals them another card, face up. The player may continue to hit as long as they wish. When they are satisfied with the value of their hand, they stand or stay. The turn then passes to the next player to the left.

If a player draws to a total of eight or more, they have busted. They reveal their hole card, and the banker immediately collects their bet. The banker also removes their cards to the discard pile. This player sits out for the rest of the hand.

The payout

After each player has had a chance to participate, the dealer faces their hole card and draws as many times as they would like. Unlike in Blackjack, there are no rules on when they must hit or stay; they may play however they see fit. (Note that dealer is perfectly free to take into account the cards shown by the other players, and the number of remaining players in deciding when to hit!)

If the banker busts, they must pay each active player an amount equal to each of their individual bets. If they stand before busting, they collect the bets of each player with a total lower than the banker’s, and must pay each active player that ended with a total higher than the banker’s. Ties push, with the banker neither collecting nor paying any bets.

Two-card 7½s

If a player draws to a total of exactly 7½ in two cards—that is after hitting once they hold either a 7 and a face card, or the K♦ and another face card—they immediately turn their hole card face up. This is considered an automatic stand.

At the end of the hand, a player holding 7½ in two cards is paid at a rate of 2 to 1. (That is, they are paid double their wager.) The only exception is if the banker also has 7½ in two cards, in which case it is a push, as usual. Two-card 7½s always beat 7½s formed with three or more cards. (This is also true when the banker has 7½ with two cards and a player has 7½ with three or more cards.)

When a player holds a two-card 7½, they take over as banker and dealer beginning with the next hand, unless the current banker also had a two-card 7½. If multiple players have such a 7½, the first one to the banker’s left is entitled to become the next banker.

See also

Seven and a Half is generally a much less formal game than Blackjack. Nonetheless, a review of Blackjack dealing procedures may be helpful to assist a prospective dealer in keeping the game orderly.

 

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Briscola

Briscola (pronounced with all long vowels, like breeze-cola) is a simple Italian trick-taking game for two to four players. When four play the game, they play as two-player partnerships; in two- and three player games, each player plays for themselves.

Object of Briscola

The object of Briscola is to take tricks containing the most point-scoring cards as possible.

Setup

The composition of the deck in Briscola depends on the number of people playing. The two- or four-player game uses the same 40-card Italian pack used in Scopa. To prepare such a deck, take a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove the 10s through 8s, leaving ace through jack and 7 through 2 in each of the four suits. The three-player game uses a 39-card deck, prepared the same way, but removing one of the 2s (which one doesn’t matter, but it should be communicated to all of the players).

You’ll also need something to keep score with. Scoring is not too complicated in this game (at the most you’ll be playing three hands), so while pencil and paper will work, you can also use a smartphone application, a small dry-erase board, or even memory if you trust everyone not to fudge the numbers.

In the four-player game, the players should either mutually agree to partnerships, or else draw cards from a shuffled deck to determine who is on which partnership (the two players drawing higher cards play against the two drawing lower cards). Partners should sit opposite one another, such that when proceeding around the table, each player is from alternating partnerships.

Shuffle and deal three cards to each player. Turn up the next card of the deck. This card, the upcard, fixes the trump suit for the hand. Place the deck stub in the center of the table; it will form the stock.

Card ranking

Briscola uses an idiosyncratic card ranking, elevating the 3 to the second-highest card, just below the ace. All other cards rank in their usual order. Therefore, the full card ranking is (high) A, 3, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4, 2 (low).

Game play

The player to the left of the dealer leads to the first trick. Each player, proceeding around the table to the left, then plays one of their cards to the trick. There is no obligation to follow suit; a player may play any card they please. The player who played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led, if there is no trump, wins the trick. That player adds it to a face-down won-tricks pile in front of them (in the four-player game, partnerships share a common won-tricks pile). There is no need to keep the tricks separated in the pile.

After each trick, the players each draw a card, starting with the player who won the trick, then proceeding clockwise. The player that won the trick then leads to the next one.

After the stock has been depleted, the next and final player to draw takes the upcard. In the four-player game, the players now briefly exchange hands with their partner, look at their partner’s last three cards, then switch back. Then, the last three tricks are played as usual.

When all of the tricks have been played, the hand is scored. Players turn up their won-trick piles and total up the number of points found in it according to the following list:

  • Aces: eleven points.
  • 3s: ten points.
  • Kings: four points.
  • Queens: three points.
  • Jacks: two points.
  • 7s–2s: zero points.

In the two- and four-player games, one more hand is played, with the deal passing to the left (to the first hand’s non-dealer in the two-player game). In the three-player game, each player deals one hand, for a total of three hands. Whichever player or partnership scored the most points across all of the hands is the winner (in the event of a tie, the winner of a tie-breaker hand wins the game).

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Scopa

Last week, we shared the rules of Cassino with you. Scopa is a similar game, found in the same “fishing” family as Cassino, although it is much simpler than the latter game. Scopa, meaning sweep in Italian, was described by David Parlett in The Penguin Book of Card Games as “one of Italy’s major national card games”. Like Cassino, Scopa is best for two players.

Object of Scopa

The object of Scopa is to use the cards in your hand to capture cards on the table, with particular attention given to nabbing certain high-scoring cards.

Setup

Scopa requires a 40-card deck of playing cards. Traditionally, an Italian deck is used, with suits of swords in place of spades, batons instead of clubs, cups instead of hearts, and coins instead of diamonds. The Italian deck used for Scopa also has different face card ranks: re (king), cavall (knight), and fante (footsoldier). You can create an equivalent pack by taking a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and removing the 8s, 9s, and 10s; the English queen will substitute for the knight, and the jack for the footsoldier. It does not matter that the suits don’t match up; suits generally do not matter in Scopa, although diamonds take on the role of coins in the Italian game.

You will also need some form of scorekeeping apparatus, like pencil and paper.

Shuffle and deal three cards to each player, then deal four more face up to the center of the table. The remainder of the deck forms the stock. If three or more of the four board cards are kings, it is customary to abandon the hand, throw in the cards, and deal again.

Game play

The non-dealer plays first. On their turn, a player may use any card in their hand to capture one or more of the board cards. The cards so captured, as well as the one played by the player, are placed face-down in a score pile in front of them.

Capturing is achieved in one of two ways. The first is by pairing a card from the hand with a card matching in rank. The card captures only one other card of that rank on the board. (This is unlike in Cassino, where one card may capture as many as three others of the same rank.)

The second way of capturing is by addition, wherein the player captures two or more other cards that total the value of the card being played. For the purposes of addition, aces count as one, numerical cards as their face value, jacks as eight, queens as nine, and kings as ten. If a card can perform a capture by both pairing or by addition, the pairing takes precedence and must be performed rather than performing an addition capture. It is possible to clear the entire board of cards, called a sweep or scopa; this is recorded by putting the card performing in the sweep face-up in the score pile.

If a player cannot make any other play on their turn, they must trail by discarding one card face-up to the board. A player may not simply trail if they are able to capture something with that card, however.

Every third turn, the players exhaust their hands; new three-card hands are dealt from the stock. The board does not receive any further cards, and the cards already on the board remain in play.

Ending the hand

Game play continues until both the stock and the players’ hands are exhausted. The last player to make a successful capture adds the remaining board cards to their score pile. This does not constitute a sweep, even if the player actually captured all of the cards on the board. The hand is then scored, with players awarded one point for each of the following, in order:

  • collecting the most cards overall*
  • collecting the most diamonds*
  • capturing the sette bello (7♦)
  • primiera (see below)
  • 1 point for each sweep

*In the event that the players are tied for the most cards in these categories, neither player gets the point.

In order to be eligible for primiera, a player must have collected cards of all four suits. A player then finds the highest-scoring card in each suit according to the following list, and adds up the total of all four cards:

  • a 7—21 points
  • a 6—18 points
  • an ace—16 points
  • a 5—15 points
  • a 4—14 points
  • a 3—13 points
  • a 2—12 points
  • a face card—10 points

The player with the higher count by this reckoning scores the point for primiera.

The first player to score eleven points wins. Points should be added in the order listed above, and whenever the first player reaches eleven points, scoring ceases, with the remaining categories going unscored.

See also

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